The therapeutic relationship between humans and dogs: promoting mental and physical health

In an age where stress and mental health issues are becoming more prevalent, the amazing bond between humans and dogs offers a glimpse into a therapeutic relationship that goes beyond mere companionship. The relationship between humans and dogs has far-reaching implications for both mental and physical health.

Socializing with dogs has been found to have profound physiological effects on human health. Even briefly stroking a dog has been proven to boost a person’s health for months. Numerous studies have shown that these short-term positive experiences are powerful enough to reduce stress hormones and increase levels of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone.”

A recent study found evidence that even short minutes of quality socialization with a dog can help people “think better.” It turned out that short interactions between schoolchildren and dogs twice a week improved reasoning ability and concentration, with the positive effects lasting for several months. Professor Nancy Gee, director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, states, “I think it’s safe to say that animals are beneficial to our mental and physical health. We are seeing really good effects.”

The Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University is at the forefront of research on the health benefits of human-animal interaction. With support from organizations such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Waltham PetCare Research Institute, this research is rapidly expanding.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of research on the health benefits of dogs, and the quality of evidence has improved. There is mounting evidence that levels of the stress hormone cortisol are reduced in people after as little as five to twenty minutes of socializing with dogs, even if they are not their pets. A comprehensive review by Australian medical scientists and psychologists found that more than half of the studies reported positive physiological changes in people who spent just five minutes with a dog.

Moreover, socializing with dogs leads to increased levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Changes in people’s heartbeat, known as heart rate variability (HVR), have been noted, indicating an overall improvement in health. An increase in HVR is associated with relaxation, while a decrease in HVR is associated with serious health risks. Notably, dogs also have increased oxytocin levels when interacting with people, indicating that it’s a two-way street.

International cooperation is key to understanding these phenomena. Research conducted at the University of Lincoln has shown that regular play with dogs has significant benefits for school children, including reduced stress and improved executive function. These cognitive gains were found to be sustained for up to six months.

In conclusion, the therapeutic relationship between humans and dogs provides numerous mental and physical health benefits. Socializing with dogs has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve cognitive function and overall well-being. The growing body of research in this area emphasizes the importance of human-animal interaction and its potential to improve our lives.

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